Aborting Democratic Elections

Incoming VA AG Jason Miyares (R) with Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman (R).

There is a corollary to the adage about power and corruption. Election victories cause visions of power to infect reason.

Virginia’s newly elected attorney general, Jason Miyares, announced that he would seek legislation from the General Assembly authorizing his office to assume the prosecutorial powers of Commonwealth’s attorneys who fail to prosecute crimes based upon a report from the county sheriff or chief law enforcement officer. That is a frightening vision from a newly elected official.

According to a Fox News report quoting Miyares, the legislation is to provide that “if the Commonwealth’s attorney (CA) is not doing their job, then I’m going to do it for them.” The criterion to assess CA performance is to be based upon a “request” from the chief law enforcement officer in the county. This statement made its political purpose evident, as Miyares declared: “I’m thinking specifically, some of the so-called ‘social justice’ Commonwealth’s attorneys that have been elected, particularly in Northern Virginia.”

Perhaps even more attractive [than cash], however, is the opportunity to nullify the election of any Commonwealth’s Attorney by a constituency on the basis of a publicly debated platform of policies. The proposal by Miyares bears striking similarities to legislation in other states to reverse undesirable election outcomes.

While the incoming AG did not offer bounties payable for reports of CA malfeasance, the temptation of political party animosity could prove as attractive as cash. Perhaps even more attractive, however, is the opportunity to nullify the election of any CA by a constituency on the basis of a publicly debated platform of policies. The proposal by Miyares bears striking similarities to legislation in other states to reverse undesirable election outcomes. Here, Miyares proposes the shortcut of nullifying established prosecutorial activities endorsed by local constituencies.

Fox further reported that the Loudoun County sheriff (a Republican) appeared on stage with the new AG as the announcement was made. The county’s CA fits the description of a “so-called ‘social justice’” CA in NOVA. Coincidence? NCIS rule 37 holds that there are no coincidences. Miyares vowed to investigate recent sexual abuse cases involving the county school system. The incidents are further overlain with conflicting exchanges between school officials and the sheriff’s office about reciprocal notifications required of the two agencies.

The potential for Loudoun’s CA to be cited in a request from the chief law enforcement officer of the county as failing to do the job appears highly possible, even probable, were the AG to launch an investigation. The proposed legislation is, unfortunately, not Byzantine as its purpose has been replicated in a number of states responding to the viral conspiracy about stealing elections.

Across the Commonwealth, partnerships between CAs and local law enforcement have emerged to address remedies for a number of criminal justice issues, such as drugs and mental health, through strategies known as diversion programs. These efforts refocus governmental resources of law enforcement from traditional resolution (e.g., prosecution, imprisonment) toward constructive outcomes.

The voting citizenry will certainly be keenly interested to learn some of the “social justice” initiatives in the crosshairs of the new administration. Across the Commonwealth, partnerships between CAs and local law enforcement have emerged to address remedies for a number of criminal justice issues, such as drugs and mental health, through strategies known as diversion programs. These efforts refocus governmental resources of law enforcement from traditional resolution (e.g., prosecution, imprisonment) toward constructive outcomes.

Criminal justice reform in Virginia has been a major topic of concern in the legislature and in the elections of Commonwealth’s attorneys. The United States has been characterized as the largest incarcerator of its residents in the world. Virginia’s ACLU neatly summarized the impact CAs have upon the administration of criminal justice:

Prosecutors decide whether anyone arrested by the police gets tried for a crime, and who gets charged with what. They decide whether juveniles get tried as adults, can force a defendant to face a jury, recommend the sentences people will serve if convicted, and choose whether to bring an action to forfeit and sell the property of people who haven’t been convicted of anything. Their actions can increase the number of people incarcerated in jails and prisons, ruin lives by having someone held pending trial without bail, and deepen racial disparities in the criminal justice system that begin with the decision by police whether to stop someone or arrest them.

In July 2020, 11 CAs (Virginia Mercury, 7/20/2020) representing 40% of the state’s population joined in support of a broad array of criminal justice reforms to be considered by the General Assembly. The vast majority of the target areas of reform had been pursued locally within the individual jurisdictions and reflected popular acceptance, including some with bipartisan agreement. The constitutional terms of the state’s current CAs commenced with elections in 2019 for a 4-year term. In effect, Mr. Miyares seeks to abort those elections and nullify the “social policies” introduced by CAs.

If Mr. Miyares has better ideas for the administration of criminal justice in Virginia, he ought to use the bully pulpit of his office to convince voters of such better ideas, rather than seeking to assume extraordinary authority to achieve a political objective.

It is, perhaps, too early to assess whether the new AG’s proposal reflects a corrupted cognition resulting from absolute power, but it certainly reflects a political view of governance that is disturbing. If Mr. Miyares has better ideas for the administration of criminal justice in Virginia, he ought to use the bully pulpit of his office to convince voters of such better ideas, rather than seeking to assume extraordinary authority to achieve a political objective.  It is one thing for a successful candidate to enjoy victory, and another to allow the euphoria to morph into megalomaniacal threats..  

This New Age autocracy advocated by legislative schemes to reverse previously approved public policies promises that, when a political party cannot win elections in fair competition, it may seek to overturn them or nullify the outcomes. Democratic governance and process will be the victims.

 



Categories: Attorney General, crime and punishment, election integrity, elections, Issues, Local, POLICING, political parties, politics, prosecutors, republicans, RULE OF LAW

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